That personal touch

Service holds the key to success, says Moussa El Hayek, general manager of the Al Bustan Centre and Residence in Dubai, UAE
The Al Bustan Centre and Residence: a destination in itself

The Al Bustan Centre & Residence in Dubai, UAE, which has 640 single, one and two-bedroom suites available for short or long-term lease, focuses on personalised service as its strong selling point

The complex also boasts a host of recreational facilities including an amusement arcade, two cinemas, large shopping and food court.

TTN spoke to its general manager Moussa El Hayek on how the centre fared over the last year:

Q: Al Bustan's success has always been based on change and development. In the amusement centre, have you added any new facilities?

A: We have recently received about 20 new machines, which are the latest in their field according to our suppliers. Some of them are the first to be operated in Dubai and we have received very favourable comments from users.

In the leisure business, you have to keep on top of the trends, as the young people today know more about what is new than we do, so we have to keep up with them, if we want their business.

Have you opened any new outlets in the shopping centre?

We now have a complete solution for the textile market with seven shops operational at present and four to open in the next two months, which will mean 11 outlets selling high-quality textiles, which appeal to the local ladies.

This has given a boost to the shopping centre, as the various brands are well-known and we are very happy with the response from our customers. We are also opening a bank branch very shortly in the shopping centre, which gives us banking facilities in a retail environment.

We have also opened a new pharmacy near the textile market. Previously we had such an outlet, which closed down, but now we have a new pharmacy.

A ladies hair dressing salon should be opening soon too, there were some unexpected delays with the decor.

We also now have an Internet Centre with 61 workstations and a teaching sector. The lines installed by Etisalat are 25 times faster than normal Internet lines, so a very sophisticated attraction has been added .

Is your relationship with the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) still positive?

Yes, indeed. We have to look at DSF from a general point of view, not just as an individual business establishment arcade, as there are many things to do for children. For shoppers, there are many facilities on offer and we have more people staying at the residence. DSF is definitely an added benefit for our operation.

Have you added any new outlets to the food court in addition to Italian, Mongolian, Chinese, Lebanese and seafood.

We appointed a new chef about three months ago and we have also opened a new outlet called Subway, a well-known, American food restaurant, which has been very popular.

You opened a new department store of 18,000 square feet, has it been expanded? And how is it doing?

The department store is focussing on the most popular brand for ladies and children. We realised that these two categories of clients were out major customers, due to the mix of our clientele.

What type of visitors are attracted to the five-star accommodations of the residence? And do you believe you can compete with the other five-stars in Dubai?

There is no competition with five-star hotels as far as the business traveller mix is concerned. We cannot compete with the upper corporate level of five-star hotels in Dubai, as we do not have the necessary number of conference rooms and other top-level business facilities demanded by senior corporate clients.

We can compete, when it comes to the mid-level business traveller, who does not need high-end business facilities, just a comfortable room and a minimum of business related amenities.

We can hold our own, where air crews and leisure travellers are concerned. Holiday visitors prefer to stay with us and pay less in room rates and still be very comfortable in connecting suites with kitchen facilities and access to shopping centre and amusement arcade under the same roof.

You had two regular airline crew from Vietnam and Malaysia. Are they still with you and do you have any other airlines using Al Bustan?

A: Yes, they are still with us. We are at present negotiating with another airline. From time to time, we have had other airline crew staying with us as a result of overbooking at other Dubai hotels.

Anything new at the business centre?

We offer our business visitors very good rates and soon we might let businessmen have Internet access free of charge.

Al Bustan is located near to both Dubai and Sharjah airports, and you previously said this location did not actually help your marketing activities. Has this changed with the new airport and terminal in Dubai?

Many people originally thought our location was wrong, but they have been proved wrong. Around Al Bustan a very busy area is developing with many businesses moving into this part of Dubai such as the Dubai Investment Complex, which is going to be finished soon and will probably be leased to oil companies.

There are many more commercial and residential buildings going up around us. However, Al Bustan considers it a destination in itself. Our customers do not worry about our location, they come to us, because they want to.

July and August are some of your best months. What is the forecast for this year? Are you expecting a good summer?

Yes, we are expecting the same number of visitors as last year, or slightly better. I say that, because we are almost at our peak of occupancy in these months.

The main thing for us is to maintain this business, because more and more hotels are being built and in the summer months, some of the 5-star hotels offer very low rates and very inexpensive packages.

Some of our guests, as we saw last year, prefer to stay one week at a beach hotel and then a week or more with us. This is, of course, a loss of room nights, but we can cope due to the volume of business we are able to generate.

Al Bustan is one of the most popular hotels for GCC nationals. Is this trend continuing and do you already have bookings?

We have been able to convert many of our GCC customers into repeat visitors. We see this trend from Eid to Eid. We know our clients not only by name, but we know their faces too. They come and stay during their summer holidays, for two to three weeks. Some families from Abu Dhabi stay for a month. The husband drives to and from Abu Dhabi for work, while the family stays with us, because they feel secure and this is a comfortable place to stay. We have seen the number of repeat clients increase year by year. They are like ambassadors for us, as they recommend us to their friends and business associates.

This year is the Dubai Air Show. Is this reflected in your forward bookings?

We have already received enquires from different international organisations participating in the Dubai Air Show and we expect to do very well of this exhibition.

This is where our location comes in handy, as we will be near to the exhibition grounds and most of the hotels in Dubai will be full. We do not expect the president of a company to stay with us, but we will probably get the engineering and technical teams.

Dubai has announced plans to attract 15 million visitors by 2010, Emirates is ordering the A380 superjumbo, and Virgin Atlantic says it is going to start serving Dubai soon. Does this encourage your owners to think about building more hotels or more apartment residences?

This has to match what our owners have in mind with regard to the hotel business. Our owners are a banker as well as a local entrepreneur.

The general environment suggests a healthy atmosphere, considering that 33 countries can now enter the UAE without prior visa applications. This, of course, helps tourists to move freely and more of them to come to the UAE.

Now that almost everybody has a mobile phone, have hotels thought about dropping the prices of telephone calls to compete?

I do not think that will be necessary, because even a child nowadays has a mobile phone, they are so competitive. We do not attract high-level business travellers, who are the ones making most phone calls overseas. Our rates for telephone calls have always been very low.

Do you still have tea, coffee and milk in the rooms to welcome guests, and are there any other gimmicks or innovations being introduced to encourage guests to use the Al Bustan?

Yes, it is still ongoing, Basically our 'gimmick' is the personalised service we offer our guests. We continuously train our staff to treat each guest like a king, despite the fact that we are a large complex. We have received many statements from guests indicating they really feel at home with us. We are also in the process of creating a loyalty card programme with special benefits and discounts for clients, who keep coming back to us time and again.

What percentage of visitors does your repeat customers constitute?

A: Our repeat customers from the local market constitute about 30 per cent, from the GCC market 15-20 per cent and the rest from other markets.